Not Just a Fresh Coat of Paint
Starcraft 2 is a game that’s been a long time coming. It’s also a game that’s gotten a whole mess of negative sentiment from what I can only hope is the usual vocal minority on the internet who condemn games like this based on some weird bizzaro-world metric for what makes games fun. That said, let’s go ahead and get those concerns out of the way. Starcraft 2 is not Starcraft 1 with a shiny new coat of paint. When you buy Starcraft 2, you are not paying $60 for 1/3 of a game. If those were your chief concerns that kept you from buying it right away, stop reading this review right now and go buy it for crying out loud.
For those of you who’re still here, let’s start with the single player. Again, one of the main complaints people have had before even getting a chance to play the single player campaign is that it’s only a Terran campaign, so it’s gonna feel short and incomplete right? This could not be further from the truth. Not only is each individual mission in Starcraft 2 much more involved and interesting than anything in the first game, but there is an all new metagame thrown on top that ties everything together much better than the original. What this really means is that the absurdly long conversations with talking heads before missions are gone. Hallelujah!
Instead, Starcraft 2 really embraces the Terrans as the space-truckers they are (like…for reals…you’ll see). So you spend your time between missions in a nasty, broke down bar in the middle of nowhere for a while, where you can watch UNN news reports on current events, listen to some space country on the juke box, or talk to key characters about what’s going on in the game’s story. After a few missions you decide to get the hell outta dodge and spend most of the rest of the campaign running things from your battlecruiser. This adds a lab, where you can spend research points you earn from bonus objectives during missions to buy some pretty crazy upgrades. Some of them are admittedly less crazy, like giving bunkers extra health, but the robot panther that does AoE melee damage and the Zerg Mind Control Tower that lets you permanently take control of any Zerg unit make it worthwhile to go after those bonus objectives. Then there’s the armory, where you can spend the money you earn from each mission on unit specific upgrades, like stimpacks for marines or improved anti-air capabilities for your battlecruisers.
Then there are the cinematics. Blizzard does not disappoint as there are numerous in-engine cinematics in addition to the pre-rendered variety that are absolutely gorgeous. The in-engine cinematics didn’t look so hot on my rig, but that’s because I’m still using the same computer I built on an emergency budget in college five years ago after my old one CAUGHT FIRE while I was using it (the moral of the story? Don’t skimp on your MoBo, kids). From what I’ve seen on youtube and the like, they actually look pretty damn good if you’ve got anything more sophisticated than an abacus to run SC2 on, but the fact that it scales well enough to run on my god awful machine is definitely worth noting.
So yeah, there’s a lot to do between missions in Starcraft 2 and I found myself enjoying it almost as much as the missions themselves, even if it’s all relatively simple point-and-click adventure game style stuff. “That’s all well and good,” you say, “but what about the multiplayer?” Well, I’m admittedly not a huge Starcraft multiplayer guy. I like it. It’s fun, but I’ve never had the time or interest (read: skill) to get good at it. Still, if there’s any part of the game that feels like Starcraft 1 but with a new coat of paint, this would be it. But even here, between the crazily more robust implementation of battle.net, and the rebalancing that’s been done, it’s absolutely a brand new game. Sure the three factions still have the same general feel, and having some SC1 experience will definitely help, but you’re not going to be able to just hop in and start doing the exact same things you were doing in SC1.
Looking just at Terrans, for example, medics and firebats are gone (but only from multiplayer). Instead, Terran have the heavy-infantry Marauders, which deal heavy damage and can be upgraded to have their grenades slow enemy units (which is great for countering zealots with charge or chasing down stragglers when your enemy tries to retreat). With medics gone, dropships have taken up the healing role and are now called Medevacs, so a standard terran strategy now is to pump out marines and marauders while teching to medevacs and then having several of them follow your main force around healing. This also makes it easy to load up 8 marines into a medevac, swing around the back of your enemy's main or expansion and do some good harassing with stim packs to decimate their workers quickly while having the stim damage healed by the medevac. Zerg queens can now expand the creep by pooping out creep tumors. Creep management is huge for Zerg mobility as all units move much faster on the creep. So if you can get all your expansions connected with creep, you can be all over the map in no time. Protoss can now (through upgrades) warp their basic ground units in anywhere where there's a pylon. This leads to lots of high level protoss players using some really interesting pylon positioning to get attacks as well as defensive maneuvers set up in some really interesting positions. And those are just a small number of ways the multiplayer plays differently from the original. The more you really dig in, the more you see has changed.
And for those of you who feel intimidated, not only is there a ranking system that should in theory match you with people around your same skill level, there are even 9 challenges (3 for each race) that try to teach the basics of counters, hotkeys, etc. that are vital to being competitive in Starcraft 2 multiplayer. And that’s not all! There’s also a sort of beginners’ league that’s totally voluntary. If you want up to your first 50 matches to be on smaller maps that have sealed off starting zones to discourage rushing, Blizzard is here for you. All in all, it’s much more accessible than the last game for those who haven’t necessarily been spending 4 hours a day on youtube watching build order videos.
This game is huge. This game is good. If you like RTS games, if you like Blizzard games, if you liked Starcraft, hell if you like games period, you should buy this game.
To sum up:
+ Does a much better job with narrative and character development than its predecessor
+ The campaign is long and varied with some unexpected twists
+ Multiplayer is still frantic and highly skill based like the first game
- It makes me want to buy a new computer so I can see what those textures look like
In case you’re curious about your own rig…my current rig at a glance:
AMD Athlon64 3500+
ATI Radeon X1300 512MB
2GB EDO RAM (kidding, but it is 2GB)
I got relatively smooth gameplay throughout the campaign at 1280x768 with all the details set as low as possible. I could definitely start to notice some slowdown on larger battles, and don’t think I’ll be trying anything beyond 1v1 as far as multiplayer goes until I get a new rig.
UPDATE: Check out my updated multiplayer impressions in my blog!